Cases When a Match School is Really a Reach

Choosing the right colleges to apply to is one of the most important steps in the college admission process. However, many students make some common mistakes that can hurt their chances of getting accepted.

In this article, we will discuss six cases in which a match school is really a reach, and how to avoid them.

What is a Match School?

A match school is a college where your academic profile (GPA, test scores, class rank, etc.) is similar to that of the average admitted student. A match school is not a guarantee of admission, but it means that you have a good chance of getting in.

A reach school is a college where your academic profile is below that of the average admitted student. A reach school is not impossible to get into, but it means that you have a low chance of getting in.

A safety school is a college where your academic profile is above that of the average admitted student. A safety school is almost certain to admit you, but it may not be your first choice.

The standard advice most students receive is to apply to a mix of safety, match, and reach schools. However, in some situations, what seems like a match might actually be a reach. Here are six cases where you need to be careful when choosing your college list.

1. Highly Selective Schools

Some schools are so selective that they should be considered reach schools for almost everyone. These are the top colleges and universities in the country, such as the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, and others. These schools have acceptance rates well below 15%, and sometimes even below 5%. They receive thousands of applications from qualified students, but they can only admit a small fraction of them.

Even if you have stellar test scores and a high GPA, you should not view these schools as matches. Many well-qualified applicants will be rejected, simply because there are not enough spots for everyone. You should always have some safety schools and realistic match schools on your list, in addition to these highly selective schools.

2. Low Field-Specific GPA

Some schools or programs may have specific requirements or expectations for certain academic subjects. For example, if you are applying to an engineering school, you will need to demonstrate strong performance in math and science courses. If you are applying to a liberal arts college, you will need to show a well-rounded curriculum with humanities and social sciences.

If your overall GPA and class rank are a match for the school, but your grades in the relevant subjects are lower than average, you may have a lower chance of admission. The school or program is looking for particular strength in the areas that matter most for your intended major or field of study. Therefore, you should pay attention to your individual grades, not just your overall GPA.

3. Shifts in Selectivity

The college admission landscape is constantly changing, and some schools may become more or less selective over time. This can be due to various factors, such as changes in the number of applicants, the quality of applicants, the availability of financial aid, the reputation of the school, and so on.

If you are using outdated data or information to determine your match schools, you may be making a mistake. A school that used to accept 50% of applicants may now accept only 30%, or vice versa. As a result, many schools that would have been a match a few years ago are suddenly reach schools, or the other way around.

You should always use the most recent and reliable data available to research your colleges. You can find this information on the official websites of the schools, or on reputable sources such as the College Board, U.S. News, or Niche. You should also be aware of the trends and changes in the admission process, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

4. Lack of Extracurricular Involvement

Your academic profile is not the only thing that matters for college admission. Your extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports, hobbies, volunteer work, leadership roles, and so on, are also important. They show your interests, passions, skills, and personality, and how you will contribute to the campus community.

If your GPA and test scores are a good match for highly selective colleges, but you have very few or no extracurriculars, you will be applying with a handicap. Since these schools are looking for highly engaged and well-rounded students, your lack of extracurricular activity will lessen your chances of acceptance.

You should try to get involved in some activities that you enjoy and that reflect your goals and values. You don’t need to join every club or sport in your school, but you should have some depth and commitment in the ones you choose. You should also look for opportunities to demonstrate leadership, initiative, and impact in your activities.

5. Out-of-State Status for a Public College

Many public colleges and universities have different admission standards for in-state and out-of-state applicants. This is because state-funded schools are often required to admit a certain percentage or number of in-state students, who pay lower tuition and fees than out-of-state students. As a result, the admission bar is often set higher for out-of-state students, who face more competition and less availability.

You may find that your scores are a good match for some top public universities, such as Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, UNC Chapel Hill, and others. However, your chance of admission may change significantly if you don’t live in the school’s state. You should always check the admission statistics for both in-state and out-of-state applicants, and compare your profile accordingly.

You should also consider the cost of attending an out-of-state public school, which can be much higher than an in-state school or even a private school. Some public schools may offer merit scholarships or financial aid to out-of-state students, but they are often limited and competitive. You should weigh the benefits and drawbacks of applying to out-of-state public schools, and have some backup options in case you don’t get in or can’t afford it.

6. Special Programs Within a College

Some colleges may have specialized programs or majors within them that have higher admission standards than the college as a whole. For example, some business, engineering, nursing, or honors programs may require additional application materials, such as essays, interviews, portfolios, or tests. They may also have higher expectations for your academic performance and extracurricular involvement.

Let’s say you are applying for a top business or engineering program at a college where your scores are a good match. However, you may find that the program you are interested in is much more selective and competitive than the college itself. For example, as hard as it is to get into the University of Pennsylvania, it’s even harder to get into Penn’s Wharton School of Business.

You should always research the specific requirements and expectations for the program or major you are applying to, and make sure you meet them or exceed them. You should also prepare well for any additional application components, such as essays, interviews, or tests. You should also have some alternative options in case you don’t get into your desired program or major.


Choosing your college list is a crucial step in the college admission process, and you should do it carefully and realistically. You should avoid some common mistakes that can make you think that a match school is really a reach, and lower your chances of getting accepted.

You should also have a balanced list of safety, match, and reach schools, and apply to the ones that fit your academic, financial, and personal needs and preferences. By doing so, you will increase your chances of finding the best college for you.

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